4a. Pause memes in particular: L2015 fail
Well firstly, let’s look at the reasons that Lewandowsky and Oreskes cite. They emphasizes three bias mechanisms ‘that may facilitate the seepage of contrarian memes into scientific discourse’, which are 1) ‘stereotype threat’, 2) ‘pluralistic ignorance’ and 3) the ‘third-person effect’. While these are all genuine bias mechanisms, they aren’t relevant to the success of ‘pause’ memes or ‘contrarian’ memes in general.
Regarding 1), the executive summary of L2015 says: “Thus, when scientists are stereotyped as ‘alarmists’, a predicted response would be for them to try to avoid seeming alarmist by downplaying the degree of threat.” This will occur, but to a very modest degree. Alarmism is common among Consensus adherents in general, and some climate scientists. Many others turn a blind eye; few openly oppose it. While alarmism may not quite be a badge of honor, there appears to be very little stigma against it, and often some reward (e.g. publication).
Regarding 2), ‘pluralistic ignorance’ can occur when a minority opinion gets a disproportionate public prominence, resulting in a majority of people assuming that their own view must be more marginal than it actually is. But even since ‘the pause’ achieved some level of public consciousness, it is hard to see how the still very modest voice of the skeptics could drive this effect; you’d need a constant and very effective global media presence for the effect to be significant. Prior to pause-acknowledgement, the skeptic voice was much smaller still; and one can’t argue that the effect bootstrapped itself. Wrt IPCC technical papers as a marker, it is unsupported alarm not lack of concern that is overstated in the public domain. L2015’s referenced Vision Prize study likely reveals potent emotional bias as expressed by scientists here, here and here, which even the limited reality of IPCC process cannot underwrite.
Regarding 3), the ‘third person effect’ occurs because people tend to be more affected by persuasive messages than they think. They falsely assume others are affected, but not themselves. However, the effect can only be powerful across a wide swath of society if both the repetitiveness and reach of the persuasive messaging are high. Similarly to the case for 2), this is not generally the case for skeptic memes even now (in scientific literature or the public domain), and certainly not for ‘pause’ memes originally; again the effect cannot start itself up from cold.
Effects 2) and 3) are essentially features of an established culture. They can achieve widespread influence on the back of other major bias effects or platforms (such as state propaganda). Notwithstanding tribalism in the US giving some voice to skeptic memes, these routes are far more likely for the dominant CAGW memes, even more so globally.
So why have ‘pause’ memes achieved relative success?
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